Welcome to another week of Scaredy Cat recaps, where I, a habitually terrified person, review what is and is not nightmare fuel on HBO’s horror allegory Lovecraft Country.
Oh, this tricky, tricky show! Midway through the fourth episode, which takes on tropes found in H.G. Wells adventure novels and heavily tips its fedora to the 40s pulp adventures that Spielberg recreated in the Indiana Jones trilogy (no shade to Cate Blanchett, but there was not a fourth Indy flick), I thought to myself “Say, this episode isn’t scary at all!” Reader, I was wrong. Atticus (Jonathan Majors), Leti (Jurnee Smollett) and Montrose (Michael K. Williams) get involved in a race against the mysteriously not dead Christina Braithwaite (Abbey Lee) to track down one of the two sets of sovereign pages from the Order of Adam. (Side note: I don’t want to get us too far afield but these secret societies have got to work on their paperwork addictions. These wizards love process. I can barely keep track of all the different parts of Roberts Rules of Order so I for sure am not interested in having to consult two different sets of sovereign pages just to figure out what quorum is or the procedure for passing a budget resolution! And you have to read these pages while peeking out from under an oversized wizard hood in a dimly-lit room? It’s a no for me, babe. I’m sorry. Seems easier just not to be in a racist cult. I’m just saying. I’m just saying.) Where was I? I need a map to navigate these digressions… which is handy because cartography is a key component of every adventure story and episode four is chock full of them. (Brought it back around!)
Lovecraft Country relishes working on multiple levels, bringing the footnotes up to become main text and running an x-ray machine over historical record. On the surface this ep is a rollicking adventure story focusing on the exploits of Titus Braithwaite, who in the universe of the show was a famed explorer, the kind whose toppled statue would be sitting at the bottom of Boston Harbor in 2020. It’s a reminder that behind ever Admiral Perry there’s a Matthew Henson and behind every Lewis and Clark there’s a Sacagawea and a York, people of color whose roles have been elided or erased completely. And, as the thrilling episode reaches a dark climax, it makes the point that one man’s exploratory adventure is a horror story for an entire indigenous culture. How scary are the parts that come before? Let’s get into it!
Caution: Spoilers ahead for episode 4 of Lovecraft Country, “A History of Violence.”
How scary is space?
Okay, well the easy answer to this question is: very. I don’t care what Interstellar wants us to believe, space is terrifying. And I’m very certain that it smells bad. I have no science to back this up but it’s what I believe and I won’t hear otherwise. So to me, space is scary. To Aunt Hypolyta (Aunjanue Ellis), it’s a source of familial wonder as we first encounter her on the phone with her unseen father discussing a theory that there could be two suns in the solar system. She’s consulting an orrery, a model of the solar system, in a scene immediately following a creepy moment in which Christina tries and fails to break the witch doctor’s curse so she can get into Leti’s house in search of former owner Hiram Winthrop’s orrery. Is this what people did before cable TV, just built models of the solar system and then discussed them? Hobbies are exhausting!
Later, as the gang plus Hypolyta and her daughter Diana (Jada Harris), visit a natural history museum, Hypolyta points out a constellation that she named but wasn’t given credit for. Right now, we’re just getting breadcrumbs in this plot line but it seems clear we’re headed for a 50s space explorer/invader story sometime in the future. Plus, the notion of twin suns seem to reflect the on-going conflict between the white Sons of Adam and Atticus’ bloodline. So, while I withhold the right to be terrified by this later, right now the verdict is: not scary.
How scary is Rihanna’s missing ninth album?
The first glimpse we get of Christina in this episode finds her rolling through the white ‘hood in her fancy car as the soundtrack blasts “Bitch Better Have My Money” by THE Robyn Rihanna Fenty. And I? Me? Myself personally? Cannot. I know this creepy racist sorceress woman is not trying to co-opt RiRi’s anthem like she’s a problematic lip-syncing TikTok star! She spends the episode on the hunt for Hiram’s orrery (I kept hearing ornery, which is funnier to me) but what she needs to be doing is putting her witchy sense into finding R9. Until then, Christina Braithwaite, you’re canceled ma’am. Verdict: a world without new Rihanna music is scary indeed.
How scary is Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler?
In a whirlwind of world-building and backstory downloading, Tic and Leti meet up in the Southside Colored Library underneath a portrait of Carter G. Woodson to do some research on Titus Braithwaite and the Sons of Adam. I love the idea that this random Chicago library has a huge, extensive section on White Magical Racism. Look, I love libraries and librarians but I do have some questions about the idea that Tic just rolled up to the information desk and was like “Good afternoon, I’m looking for any journal articles or published works relating to a secret society of white men who are trying to destroy the Black race through time travel” and the librarian was like “Oh, that again? There’s a whole shelf dedicated to it next to the Farmer’s Almanacs.”
But, libraries are magical in their own right and Tic and Leti get the information they need, which leads them to a natural history museum in Boston to which they road trip. The plan is to sneak into the Titus Braithwaite wing after hours in search of his secret vault, which will lead them to a his scroll, which will give Tic the ability to cast spells of protection against all the white wizards. I gotta say, this was one of those moments that we sometimes encounter in shows and books with a lot of mythology where the characters suddenly understand a lot about the rules and uses of magic simply through inference and I’m always like “Sure, yes, I agree but also what?” I don’t really understand how to use some of my microwave’s more sophisticated elements so I’m fairly certain that, were I presented with a secret magical history, I wouldn’t realize that I needed to break into a museum and look for a scroll hidden in an adventure vault. But I guess that’s why this show is called Lovecraft Country and not Eric Discovers Defrost Settings on a Microwave. Mystery solved. Verdict: museums at night are WONDERFUL and not scary at all, except when you walk into the room with the huge mammoth skeleton shrouded in darkness. That’s a little scary.
How scary is car-pooling?
In a weird turn of events, the guy (Deron J. Powell) who was vying for Leti’s affection at the party in the last episode, literally jumps in front of Hypolyta’s car as the gang is pulling out to drive from Chicago to Boston. He says he has a “filly in Philly” and wants to hitch a ride. Hm. First of all, I don’t like that he just showed up out of nowhere, bag packed presumptuously. Second of all, something didn’t sit right with my spirit, geographically. So I consulted my orrery (Google Maps). Yes, Boston is closer to Philly than Chicago is but it’s still 300 miles away and also Chicago to Philly is 250 miles shorter than Chicago to Boston. I don’t trust this man at all.
Honestly, this dude should have just been wearing a shirt that read “My friends went to Boston and all I did was start shit” because that’s what he does. He insinuates to Tic that Montrose is gay and that Tic might also be and he tries once again to seduce Leti, unsuccessfully. Let me tell you about this “seduction.” In the museum he rolls up to Leti and tells her that folks call him “Tree” (who? who is folks? I need receipts.) He says that he got this nickname because he has “tree” legs, aka three legs, aka… well you get it. Boy, if you don’t get out of here with this fake-ass Taye Diggs in How Stella Got Her Groove Back accent. He’s not giving patois realness on any other words, so why the verbal italics on the pronunciation of three? Between this and the disrespect on Rihanna’s music from Christina, it’s a bad day for dialect. Verdict: he’s no good at game, starting shit, or nicknaming himself. Scary!
How scary is Edward Cullen?
Meanwhile back in Chi-town, Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) is depressed because she didn’t get the department store job she wanted. Who sidles up next to her but Christina’s brother, whom I call Winklevoss (Jordan Patrick Smith), who is also not dead despite seemingly getting crushed when the Braithwaite house collapsed. The resilience of these racists! He seduces her to get her to let him into Leti’s house, they bang on the stairs (uncomfortable!), they break a cloche (rude!), Ruby cuts her hand, and Winklevoss DRINKS HER BLOOD FROM THE CUT. I don’t want to yuck anyone’s yum, but I feel like this does not bode well for Ruby. In the words of Oda Mae Brown from Ghost (another story where Tony Goldwyn was the bad guy), you in danger, girl. Verdict: Terrifying.
How scary is an escape room?
Leti, Montrose, and Tic conveniently find their way into a secret adventure cavern beneath a statue of Titus Braithwaite in the museum. Who is out here building all these adventure caverns though? And why do they always have rickety planks over bottomless pits and rooms that fill up with water? Why aren’t these adventure caverns designed like spas or Kanye’s house or something? If I was designing a cursed chamber to hide my evil doubloons, it would look like the mall underneath Barbra Streisand’s house. You’re telling me every time Titus needs to check some rules about whether the Son of Adam meets on federal holidays he had to light a torch, duck beneath a decapitating pendulum, and perform feats of acrobatics like he’s auditioning for Cirque du Soleil? Absolutely not, my darling.
In the middle of the cavern, Leti stumbles across the floating corpse of one of her white neighbors who tried to break into her house and, behind him, an elevator. So apparently there is an elevator that goes from Boston to Chicago and it runs on White Supremacy. That’s right folks, it’s INFRASTRUCTURE WEEK! Verdict: a short commute is not scary but this doesn’t seem on the up and up.
Trigger warning: discussion of violence against a GNC person.
How scary is our story?
What began as a chasm-jumping, death-defying adventure tale, reveals itself to be a meditation on the violence done in the name of exploration when the gang finds Titus’ scroll being guarded by a skeleton that reanimates to become a two-spirit Indigenous person. The person, Yahima, was kidnapped by Titus, forced to help him by translating, and then was repaid by having their family murdered. It’s a stark reminder of the truth behind the construction of the world we all live in. As the gang plus Yahima escaped back to Leti’s house via the elevator, it seemed a welcome expansion of the show’s narrative lens. Which is why it was so disturbing when Montrose apologized to Yahima in the final moments of the show before murdering them. I haven’t yet screened the next episode, so I don’t know where this is going, but the introduction and subsequent murder of a GNC person of color felt, to me, exploitative. It’s a kind of violence that has been pervasive throughout history and continues to be in the present. Because it encompassed a story that is outside the show’s narrative lens, it also felt like a device that was being used more for shock than for emotional development. I hope the show continues to work through the uses and effects of violence, but episode four left me feeling disturbed in a way that seemed separate from the project of entertainment.
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